It’s been a little less than a week since Northwestern finished off their season with a 69-66 loss at Washington State. A few breaks and NU could have been the last Big Ten team standing in postseason play, but I guess it just wasn’t to be. The good news is that NU’s last five games of the year (despite just a 3-2 record) were some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen Northwestern play. The bad news is that one of the key cogs in that great basketball, Michael “Juice” Thompson, won’t be back next year. Still, I’d like to think those games are something NU can build on as they move forward to next season.
Next season is a critical one. With everybody returning hopefully healthy by the time the season starts and a decent class of freshman Northwestern could make another run at the NCAA Tournament. It seems for the last few years it’s been legitimate to believe Northwestern might make their first NCAA tournament and next year shouldn’t be an exception. It certainly isn’t going to come easy, but the NCAAs don’t generally come easy for any team in the Big Ten.
John Shurna is the biggest reason to believe in NU next year. Shurna’s year took a major hit on December 23, 2010 when he went down with an ankle injury vs Mount St. Mary’s and never recovered. But Shurna was dynamic before the injury and finished last season as one of the top scorers in the Big Ten. No reason exists to think he can’t return to form if his ankle returns to form. Shurna will need to take on more of leadership role without Juice, but I think he certainly can do so without a problem.
I thought one of the best moments of this past season was NU’s home win against Illinois with a great crowd and a national TV audience. In that game, Juice Thompson was huge, but freshman JerShon Cobb stepped up significantly as well. Cobb than went down with an injury shortly afterwards. Cobb’s health probably impacted NU as much as Shurna’s down the stretch as he was a key figure on defense and on the glass for NU with his athletic skill. I also really liked Cobb’s mid-range game which he showed at its best vs Illinois. JerShon’s continued development will be important next year as well. He needs to get double-figures every game to take pressure off of Shurna and Drew Crawford.
NU’s sophomores this year were inconsistent, but both give NU fans hope for their junior season. Alex Marcotulllio was great at the end of the year and has to be considered a likely starter next year for the ‘Cats. I loved the intensity that Alex played with and I look forward him logging heavy minutes next year. Drew Crawford showed some of the most athletic moves I’ve seen from an NU player this past season, but struggled with his consistency. I think a lot of that has to do with confidence. If Drew Crawford can trust his abilities, I think he’ll be dangerous next season.
In the front court at the center spot NU also saw inconsistent play. Both Davide Curletti and Luka Mirkovic had great moments, but neither regularly impressed. NU needs to recruit big men hard to give these two support and so someone is ready to play upon their graduation.
The coaching situation at NU is a subject which I and others had a lot to say about this year as well. In the end, though, Bill Carmody earned the last year of his contract which is next season. I do think Carmody will need to show real progress over this year to keep his job next year, but after NU’s final five games it is hard to object to his return.
We’ll get into the spring recruiting period soon and really get a view on NU’s future then. If the ‘Cats do get a couple big men signed I think next year and the year after will look more promising. That’s worth keeping an eye on.